JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the week around the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, Sunday
The Jaguars' defense knows what it needs to do.
Still, doing it this week is a daunting task, because what the Jaguars' defense really, really needs – and has needed all season – are big plays and turnovers.
The Jaguars play the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday. If the Chiefs have an overriding strength offensively, it's really not anything flashy or eye-catching. It's playing smart and playing sound.
At the core of that is not committing turnovers.
"They're efficient," cornerback Aaron Colvin said as the Jaguars (2-5) prepared to play the Chiefs (5-2) Sunday at 1 p.m. "They don't have too many mistakes. They don't have a lot of turnovers. They have the right pieces in place to do what they do."
Turnover margin is perhaps the most striking difference between the Chiefs and Jaguars. Kansas City is second in the NFL at plus-9 and the Jaguars are 31st at minus-8. The Chiefs have committed just seven turnovers, having lost five fumbles.
Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith was intercepted twice in the first seven games, and Nick Foles – who will start against Jacksonville – was not intercepted while throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over the Colts Sunday.
The Jaguars in seven games this season have forced just five turnovers defensively, ranking last in the NFL.
One major reason for the lack of turnovers: a pass rush that aside from a six-sack performance in a Week 4 victory over Indianapolis has struggled to affect opposing quarterbacks. Rookie Leo Yannick Ngakoue leads the Jaguars with four sacks and second-year Leo Dante Fowler Jr. has two.
While the Jaguars need more pressure off the edge and up front, the pass rush had been limited in part because opponents have avoided must-pass situations. The only game the Jaguars have led at halftime this season was against Indianapolis. As a result, opposing offenses have been able to play balanced offensively in the second half instead of being forced to throw.
"We have to get more pressure on the quarterback," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. "There is usually a direct correlation to getting takeaways and pressure on the quarterback. We have to find some ways. We started off the season for the most part getting to the quarterback, being disruptive, and after the bye we were in really good shape with disruptions.
"We were getting some takeaways, but in the last couple weeks we haven't pressured the quarterback like we should be. We have to find a way to effect the quarterback so we can get some errant throws, and when we are in a situation where we are gang tackling we need to get after the football."
Wash is right, and the key Sunday indeed could be the Jaguars' ability to force an opponent known for not making mistakes into making a few more than usual.
The Jaguars' primary storyline Sunday is a critical one – not only to this week's game, but for the long-term direction of the franchise: how will quarterback Blake Bortles play, and will he respond favorably to the Nathaniel Hackett's promotion this week to offensive coordinator? Bortles has struggled enough this season with accuracy that he brought in his personal quarterbacks coach, Adam Dedeaux, to work on fundamentals Monday and Tuesday. Bortles said Friday although the work with Dedeaux was productive, he doubts it will fix all of his mechanical issues in the short term. He also sounded enthusiastic about what Hackett might bring to the offense, specifying – as several players did this week – Hackett's emphasis on ensuring that players understand the details and the reasoning behind the plays being called. "He's done a phenomenal job," Bradley said Friday said of Hackett, the Jaguars' quarterbacks coach in 2015 and in the first seven games of this season. "He's still in the meetings with the quarterback so he's still doing that part of it and he's also coordinating the offense. He needs to have energy, which he does, to do that. He's really done a good job." Hackett, who according to Bradley will call plays from the sideline, previously served as the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and 2014. "His experience being a coordinator has really paid off," Bradley said. "He came into it, moved and it was really seamless."
Defensive end Jared Odrick was the only Jaguars player ruled out of the game Friday. He will miss the game with a foot/ankle injury. Colvin was listed as questionable with a calf injury.
"I can't wait to go. I'm looking forward to it. When they sing [Home of the Chiefs] [at the end of the Star-Spangled Banner] … I think that's pretty cool. I just think it's history. I can't wait to see it and I want to be able to be a part of it. So, yeah, I'll be ready to go."
---Jaguars defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks on playing in Arrowhead Stadium